KABUL, Afghanistan, Oct. 5 (UPI) -- Assertions that Afghan President Hamid Karzai's brother is involved in the country's booming heroin trade have U.S. officials worried, observers say.
Ahmed Wali Karzai, chief of the Kandahar Provincial Council and the president's brother, denies any ties to Afghan drug traffickers, despite claims to the contrary from some U.S. and Afghan investigators.
Whether or not they are true, U.S. officials fear perceptions that Hamid Karzai is protecting his brother are intensifying opposition to their anti-Taliban efforts, The New York Times reported Sunday.
"I am not a drug dealer, I never was and I never will be," Ahmed Wali Karzai told the Times.
Nevertheless, assertions that he has interfered with drug shipment interdictions haven't helped Hamid Karzai's beleaguered government, whose alleged corruption is one of the biggest recruitment tools for Taliban insurgents financing their movement from the heroin trade, the newspaper said.
"What appears to be a fairly common Afghan public perception of corruption inside their government is a tremendously corrosive element working against establishing long-term confidence in that government -- a very serious matter," Lt. Gen. David W. Barno, a retired coalition forces commander, told the Times. "That could be problematic strategically for the United States."